"You get nothin' back for all you've saved
Just eternity in a spacious grave"
-Jim Carroll, "Nothing is True"
Jim Carroll passed away in his apartment in New York City this past Friday. He was 59. The cause of death was an apparent heart attack.
As a teenager growing up in NYC, Jim Carroll was a good enough high school basketball player to make the National High School All Star team in 1966, all the while leading a double life as heroin addict who routinely sold his body to support his habit. He also wrote feverishly, seeing his poems published in assorted magazines, writing bits of dialogue for Andy Warhol films, and publishing three collections of his work between the ages of 17 and 23.
In 1978, he turned the journals he kept as a teenager into the autobiographical masterpiece, The Basketball Diaries. It is at once a spellbinding and horrifying book; an unflinching and unapologetic description of the life he led as a drugged-out kid surviving on the streets. An absolutely riveting read, the book was given a second, perhaps more commercial, life in 1995 when it was turned into a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio playing Carroll.
About the same time as The Basketball Diaries, Carroll began setting his poems to music and assembling a band. This was largely at the urging of Patti Smith, who had taken a similar route into the music world. The Jim Carroll Band released three magnificent albums, the best being the 1980 debut, Catholic Boy. Dry Dreams followed in 1982, and I Write Your Name in 1983.
By the mid-'80s, Carroll decided to return to the written word, hitting the spoken-word circuit and intermittently releasing recordings of readings of his works. The release of movie version of The Basketball Diaries saw a resurgence in interest in his music, and an excellent compilation of tracks, A World Without Gravity, was released. In 2000, an EP appeared based around Carroll's cover of Del Shannon's "Runaway," but no album followed.
Carroll continued making spoken-word appearances as well, but in recent years had focused on writing a novel, which remained unfinished at the time of his passing.
For this week's New Wave for the New Week entry, we celebrate the life of Jim Carroll with three clips. First, his best-known song, the stunning "People Who Died." A punk-rock ode to his friends who had passed on during his teenage years, it is at once celebratory and harrowing as he name-checks real people he grew up with and how they died. The song was originally recorded and released in 1980, the clip below comes from the 1995 soundtrack to the DiCaprio film. Following that, a 1980 clip of The Jim Carroll Band performing "Day and Night" on the old Fridays television show, and finally, the only proper promo video Carroll ever made, for his 1983 cover of The Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane" - complete with guest appearance by Lou Reed himself.
Goodbye, Jim. You will be missed.